THE RARE BREED |
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Lowman Started In Merchant Marines,
Finished War In The Front Lines
SGT. Bill Lowman in Aug. 26, 1945 photo taken while on
R&R leave in Salzburg, Austria. He mailed the photo to his soon-to-be bride,
Bonnie, back in Palacios, writing on the back of the photo, "Thinking of you, darling. Love, Bill."
William J. "Bill" Lowman was a 15-year-old high school student at Huntsville 61 years ago this weekend, at the time of Pearl Harbor's "Day of Infamy" on Dec. 7, 1941. The son of Harmon L. and Marguerite Hightower Lowman, Bill was born in Nacogdoches on Jan. 8, 1926.
In February 1944, a month after turning 18, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines and entered Officer Candidate School (OCS). He graduated from OCS in May, but by then he had decided that being in the "hole" of a ship, below the water line, with the engines, etc., and those narrow ladders one had to climb to get out should a torpedo come exploding thru the hull‹ well, that just wasn't the place for him.
Lowman resigned from the Merchant Marines in May of 1944 and within two months was drafted into the Army as a Private.
"Our training was more for fighting in the South Pacific, because things were going well in Europe after D-Day," Lowman says.
Then, in December, came the Battle of the Bulge and the Army needed replacements, right away. Lowman's group was sent to New York by air and then by ship to France.
By early January 1945, he was in the front lines. Until the war in Europe was over, some five months later, he remained in the front lines as his outfit fought to the Rhineland, on into Central Europe and to Austria.
"This was a rude awakening for a guy who, weeks earlier, was not even half finished with basic training," Lowman recalls about his quick trip to the battle front.
"The night before getting to the front lines, we arrived at the Replacement Depot. I was immediately given a sandwich, M1 rifle with ammo and sent to guard duty, where I stood with snow over my combat boot tops for a couple of hours before being relieved to warm-up."
Lowman continues with some of his experiences over the next five months as follows:
"At the Replacement Depot, there were two trucks loading GIs. I got in the second truck, thinking they were replacements for the 3rd Division, which I had been assigned to. After an hour or two traveling, I noticed the truck was on pavement. I opened the back flap to look out and saw two German soldiers walking on the sidewalk with rifles slung over their shoulders.
"I made my way back to the cab and quietly told the driver that we must be lost. I told him to make a u-turn slowly, because we had just passed two German soldiers with rifles. I also told him to take his helmet off, pull his sock cap down low, drive slowly and turn his head away from the soldiers as we passed them. We made it!
"About two hours later we were stopped by American soldiers. They were GIs with the 42nd Rainbow Division, which became my outfit instead of the 3rd Division.
"I got to the Rainbow Division like a lot of others at that time. Everyone needed replacements. If an able-bodied GI showed up, he was taken. The Sergeant took my name and assigned me to 2nd Platoon, Company G of the 222nd Infantry.
"For 30 days we were on one side of a creek and the Germans on the other side. We lived in foxholes that we dug. We tried to house three men to a foxhole, each man with one hour on duty and two off.
"During the day we took our spades (small shovels) and dug the foxhole deeper and wider, to make a place to lie down. This took several days, but we had nothing but time. All of this was in plain sight of the Germans. They didn't need field glasses to watch us. I carried glasses and was able to see the expressions on the Germans across the creek.
"At night, we would go on patrols behind the German lines.
"On one of my first patrols, our patrol leader was a sergeant, only about 18 or 19 years old. I stayed closed behind him, because I figured he knew where the mines were. I tried to step just where he did.
"As we got to the top of a slope on our patrol area, a big red-headed German raised up from nowhere with a grenade -- the kind you pull a string from, count 1, 2, and throw. As he reached for the string, the sergeant shot him in the chest. The German still reached for the string and the sergeant shot him a second time. 'Sarge' shot him four times before he finally went down.
"As the sergeant was shooting, I saw two Germans running toward us. They had solid black uniforms and were carrying something. I fell on my belly and started shooting them with my Browning. As they started to fall, I could clearly see their faces. They did not know we were there. They were the first men I ever killed.
"On one patrol, as our team was coming down a slope, I felt the need to kneel behind a tree and check where we were going. As I did, I did not know which way to turn to look around the tree. I started to look around to left, but at the last second turned to look around the right side. Just as I turned, a shot hit along side my neck and exploded into the tree, nearly making me deaf from the concussion. I went down. A few seconds later I realized I was being dragged by one of my men. In a few more seconds my senses came back and I could walk by myself.
"On another patrol, a man right in front of me stepped on a "shoe" mine and blew his left foot off. I got to him, put my belt around his left ankle and tied it as tight as possible. He was much bigger than me. I got under his left arm pit, and with my two good legs on the left and his good one on the right, we started back to the CP (Command Post). Somehow we got back across the creek, avoided the mines, and made it. I never knew his name.
"I crossed that little creek 31 times in 30 days, to go on patrols behind the German lines. Yes, one time two patrols the same day. Each patrol was harder than the one before. I will never know how I survived. I knew where to step and what tree to go to, etc. I believe God was directing me.
EIGHTEEN-year-old Merchant Marine Bill Lowman, kneeling third from left, in April 1944 photo
of class at Officer's Candidate School. After graduating from OCS in May, he resigned
and was drafted into the Army in July.
"I wore a six-shooter revolver low on right hip throughout the war. The gun had been given to me by my Dad when I went overseas. Our battalion commander, Colonel Downard, looked at my six-shooter with envy several times.
"Col. Downard was quite a collector and liked fine things. He confiscated all the best clothing material around and had his clothes custom-made by his tailor, which he kept with him in a 2 1/2-ton truck. He wore an Eisenhower blouse (I really believe he started that Eisenhower blouse look) and always wore a flashy scarf around his neck. He wore a shoulder .45 pistol.
"On one patrol, we had crossed the creek and I moved my men across an asphalt road to where they huddled behind a wall made of stone and concrete. I looked back and saw Col. Downard. He was standing straight up, like a statute, with the Eisenhower blouse. He had no helmet on, but signaled he wanted to go on the patrol. Just as I waved for him to cross the road, the Germans let loose with machine gun fire, the bullets striking the asphalt, caroming onto the wall then back to the asphalt. I waited until I thought the Germans had used up a belt of ammo, then the Colonel and I crossed the road.
"As we fought our way up the mountain slope, we came to the German foxholes. Some were empty, some had one to two men still fighting. We swept through there, shooting everything and everyone we saw. You don't bypass by too many foxholes and live!
"As we worked our way into Germany it was rough, fighting and sometimes walking up to 40 miles in a day.
"Then came the Hardt Mountains. In the foothills we saw three mountains, with the center mountain almost straight up. We were told the Germans controlled the passes between the mountains and that we going to go over the center and highest one.
"We were issued 2 days of K rations and six D-Bars that were chocolate, and all the vitamins they could put in them.
"As we were preparing to take on the mountains, up came mules from Italy. They were loaded down with boxes, and .50 and .30 caliber machine gun frames. I do not believe those mules made 200 feet up the mountain before they began to lie down.
"Those dumb mules! We GIs carried all of the heavy equipment up and over the mountain. We were five days on the trip and not one bite of extra food. Most of us had eaten our rations in three days and there was no more.
"On the fourth or fifth day, a small plane, like a Cub Cadet, dropped some K-rations on us. Believe it or not, not one package was lost!
"The worst thing about the Hardt Mountains campaign came when I saw a German hiding in the brush. I kept my Browning ready and told him to come out. When he did I saw he was a kid, 11 or 12 years old, in a German uniform‹ the youngest I had ever seen.
"An officer came up to interrogate him. When he found it was just a kid and knew practically nothing, the officer told me to shoot him. "Kill him," he said.
"I believe that was the only time I was belligerent to an officer. I looked him straight in the eye and told him, 'If you want him dead so bad, kill him yourself.'
"A couple minutes later, as I was walking away, I heard a shot and turned around to see the kid fall. Someone else took the order, not me. I just looked at the officer and said, 'Satisfied?'
"The idea to go over that Hardt mountain was unbelievable. I am sure no person believed an army could cross the top of that mountain. I believe that's why we only found one German when we got to the top, and he must have been the last!
"From the mountain area, we came to small villages. Soon the war was over.
"I never met a German civilian who was rude or ugly. I am sure they were tired of war, low on food, their homes, businesses and buildings shelled to pieces, cities bombed. One sensed they had had enough in a losing fight.
"When we met up with the Russians, they were the happiest people I've ever seen! They had not had a payday in over three years. However, most looked healthy, no fat, but okay.
"The second day after linking up with them, we were told the Russians were going to get paid in American 'script' money. To get as much as they could, the Russians told our payroll people they were sergeants. Our people knew no difference, so they paid them at that rate.
"The Russians were like millionaires! I sold cigarettes by the carton for $100. This is the money I sent home to Bonnie and what started our construction business.
"After the mountain campaign and when the war was over in May 1945 and when I found some scales, I weighed 92 pounds. I was back up to 126 when Bonnie and I got married that December.
"As to that six-shooter I carried throughout the war, when I got home, I had it gold and chrome-plated, with deer horn handles. A deer horn was on the outside and the inside was pearl. My Uncle, Texas Ranger Quincy Lowman, had a custom holster made for me by Frank Velta of Hebbronville, who made holsters for Texas Rangers and others. The gun and holster were beautiful. Unfortunately, they were stolen from my father's house.
Lowman returned home on Dec. 16, 1945. Five days later, on the 21st, he and Bonnie Lou Wright of Palacios were married. They had met in September 1943 on the campus of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, where Bonnie was a sophomore and Bill's father was president of the university.
Lowman remained in the service until his discharge on Jan. 8, 1947 at Fort Hood, Texas. He had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Among the medals Lowman had earned during his service were the Bronze Star, European-Africa-Middle Eastern (EAME) Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
About a month after getting out of service, Bill and Bonnie moved to Huntsville in February of 1947, to re-enter Sam Houston State University. Later, they lived in various places in Texas and elsewhere as Bill was involved in numerous aspects of the construction business.
They finally moved back to Bonnie's hometown of Palacios in 1997.
They have three children, daughter Becky Meador, in marketing at Houston; son William J. Lowman II, a real estate broker at New Braunfels; and daughter, Blynda Hammons of Lexington, Ky., wholesale manager for Shell Oil Products in Kentucky. There are also four grandchildren.
BILL LOWMAN IN 2002
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